A Response to Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic

cropped-12003249_10206905173363767_2147186166456652056_n.jpg

My mornings are very similar to those of Darren Main: The alarm goes off before the sun arises: it’s time for practice. I’m awake, but my eyes have not yet opened. I begin to weigh out how badly I really want to practice today. I think to myself, maybe I’ll sleep a little bit longer instead…. This thought never wins out. Eventually I get out of bed and turn a regular living room into a sanctuary lit with candles and incense. After my practice, I feel infinite and peaceful, as if nothing could shake me of this truth. But just like Main, the world hits me with a harsh reality. Whether it’s conflicts at work, a sour conversation, or just a multitude of little things not going my way, the ego flares up and the momentary bliss is gone. This is the life of the Urban Mystic: a spiritual practitioner and devotee who has one foot with spirit and one foot in the physical world.

This state of being between two worlds sets the grounds for Dharana, one of the eight limbs. Dharana translates into concentration. It has been described to me that one who embodies Dharana is like a candle flame that flickers in the wind and then continuously comes back to center. As yogis of the modern era, we are asked to do the same. The world continuously will distract us from our path, but we must choose to recenter ourselves as the flame within us bends one way or the other.

For me, this is one of the most important concepts in Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic. It reminds me of one of my favorite excerpts from Nichala Joy Devi’s book The Secret Power of Yoga:

“Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.

The lotus flower has long been a symbol for the unfolding of spirituality. It is one of the most elegant illustrations of the meshing of our human and Divine natures. 

The lotus seed is planted and grows in muddy waters, below the surface of the lake, far from the light. Though the light is murky and clear, the flower blossoms by drawing energy from within. As the bud passes through the muddy waters, it lifts its face to the sunlight and finally emerges. Miraculously, not a trace of soil remains on the flower. It lives in the mud yet it is not affected by it….

Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodahah. Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart” (Devi 16).

We see from both Main and Joy that the ability to draw the attention back comes from continual practice and focus within. No matter how hard it can be to get out of bed or to take a breath in the midst of a heated moment, as yogis we have the opportunity to continually choose between the two words: like the lotus flower whose blossoms face the light, but whose stem is rooted in the darkness. From our position we see that both light and darkness have created out beauty, our strength, and our faith. We are living examples of the lotus flower. It is our choice to be affected by the mud or to shine our face towards the light, to drift from our path or to continuously choose to come back to it.

Sources:

Main, Darren John. Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn, 2002. Print.

Devi, Nischala Joy. The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras. New York: Three Rivers, 2007. Print.

Photo credit: Damiane McMillen

The True Purpose of Yoga

sky

Hello All!

Often when people find out that I practice yoga, one of the first responses is, “Oh that’s so wonderful! I wish I could do that.” The statement is often followed by me saying something to the effect of, “Well, why can’t you?”. The reply usually has something to do with not being flexible or strong enough.

I wanted to bring this into awareness because the idea that yoga has anything to do with capability or, rather, flexibility is delusional. Can you breathe? Yes? Great. You can do yoga.

Our culture has saturated our minds to believe that the practice that has so little to do with competition, value judgements, and image, is, in fact, all of these things.

It comes from a distorted idea that yoga’s true purpose has to do with flexible, hot, trendy-dressed, acrobats who sit in a hot room for an hour or so and basically do really intense stretching and contortions, with maybe with a little more focus on the breath than usual. THIS. IS. FALSE.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and translates into the word “yoke” or “union”, meaning to unite the bodies (of which there are five: physical, energetic, emotional, wisdom, and bliss), mind, and spirit. It has absolutely nothing to do with Lulu Lemon pants or getting into a full Hanuman (splits). In fact, in yoga there is something called the Eight Limbs. The Eight Limbs function as a “Code of Conduct” for yogis and the practice of asana (poses) is only one of the Eight Limbs.

Additionally, while the limbs offer yogis guidance, there is the question of what they are guiding us to? If it’s not the toned body or sexy yoga instructor, what is it?

Often the next belief is that the purpose of yoga is enlightenment.

We see the eighth limb is Samadhi, often referred to as ecstasy or being one with the eternal. This, too, is not the goal. One does not practice yoga for the Physical Body nor does one practice yoga solely for the Bliss Body. Again, the purpose of yoga is not to strengthen our own desires to obtain a certain image of ourselves or perception of the world. These are, in fact, only the side effects of yoga. Therefore, we see a culture worshiping the chest and not the treasure.

Well then, what, pray tell, is the treasure?

Patience. I will get there.

Does anyone ever wonder why we practice Savasana (corse pose) at the end of every class? Why laying down is so, so important that every single teacher in every single lineage, home practice, or studio does it repeatedly, every single time, without fail?

So that we can take a nap because we’re really tired after our exhausting hour of stretching?

No, I’m sorry. That’s not it either.

Does anyone ever wonder why it is considered to be the most important pose? Why laying on the ground for five minutes is more important that down dog or a vinyasa, which most classes, including some of my own, do a hundred times in a hour?

It is said that the yogi practices Savasana to prepare for death. This idea is often taken quite literally, however, it took me a long time to understand what it meant on a deeper level. The truth is that yogis adhere to the knowledge that every second is death and rebirth. Every moment is wilting to blossom into a new one, every season is changing; constantly moving towards death and in the very same breathe moving towards new life.

We see this in every corner of our lives. Take for example oxygen: Billions of years ago, oxygen was introduced to our atmosphere. Cells quickly had to evolve to process this new element. Many couldn’t and perished, however, those that were able to lived on. Interestingly enough, this one element is what allowed single-celled organisms to evolve into complex organisms, that over the course of another billion years lead to us. But with this new found evolution also came decay. You see, oxygen, itself, gives us life, but it is also the very thing that causes us to age and eventually die.

And here. Here in this knowledge lies the truth. The truth that from the moment we are born, we are terminal. So we face death in the corner of every day, knowing someday it will greet us. Some people accept this as the sole truth of reality: every body and every thing dies. This is often looked at as a very sad thing, but yogis, on the contrary do not. We see death as a cycle of life, in line with the law of physics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed.

And so what does death really have to do with yoga? Do we just lay in Savasana so we can feel what it will be like to lay in our graves?

No.

For those of you who are familiar with Hindi mythology might recognize this linguistic clue: Savasana (pronounced Shiv-Aw-San -Nah) auditorally sounds a lot like the name of the God Shiva. Shiva is known as the destroyer, but also the creator. Here, we see again both life and death spouting from the same seed.

So now I will tell you: The true truth of yoga, unmasked by any marketing scheme religious, propagandistic, or the like is that yoga’s true purpose is freedom and ultimate liberation. Why is Savasana the hardest pose? Because death is the ultimate liberation. Because it is preparing for death in life. Death before death has occurred. The death is not one of pain, but one that causes the ability to renounce all pains and all things, and then renounce the renouncer of all of these things.

Imagine a moment, after a yoga class where you lay down and suddenly, you are no longer aware of whether or not you are in a yoga studio, you have no idea what you’re wearing or what magazine you saw it in, you have no attachments to your belongings, your friends, your family, your joys, or your sorrows. You are able to, for the first time, be completely capable of being present and allowing the present to leave and continuously show up again and again as a new gift. This state is completely aligned with the universe. You know all of your needs are met. You are whole. You are God remembering Self once again.

page1_blog_entry383_1 life and death